As you know I'm a huge fan of feeding chickens for free or on the cheap. I realized a few years back that if I make a small effort to plant some extra vegetable plants when I'm planting my garden, I can use those for feed for the chickens and make a dent in my feed bill. What started as an extra zucchini and some tomato plants is now a cute little chicken garden. I choose the plants based on how much they produce in a small area and how easy it is to feed it to the chickens. Things that need chopped up or cooked before being fed to the chickens do not make it to the chicken garden (I'm looking at you kohlrabi)
I don't usually buy plants for this garden. Well, except for last year when I thought I picked up 4 cucumber plants and they were zucchini. I had already started zucchini seeds. *sigh* Into the chicken garden they went! But otherwise, I either start from seed or dig out the volunteers that always pop up in my garden and move them over to the chicken garden. Sadly, as much as I would love to say I can let the chickens in their garden, they absolutely destroy it. Instead I have to take the veggies to them. It's a simple step though that saves tons of cash off my feed bill! Here's what I usually plant in the chicken garden:
Tomatoes are my favorite to plant for the flock because one plant produces pounds and pounds of tomatoes! Plus I always seem to have volunteer tomato plants pop up, so I just move them to the chicken garden and wait for the fruit to be ready.
Kale tolerates cold weather much better then any lettuce so a single kale plant can produce well into fall!
Lettuce is probably more favored by the chickens then kale but it doesn't do well till the soil warms up in spring and dies off at the first frost of fall. However, if you choose cut and come again varieties you'll have ample lettuce all summer long! It's also one of the first vegetables to reach maturity in spring.
Sunflowers are the tallest plant in the garden and the chickens absolutely love them. Sunflowers are simple to feed, just cut the sunflower heads off and throw them to the chickens. I usually set some of them aside to dry for later. I put them in my shed where it's somewhat warm but dry. Once dry you just rub the seed heads to pop the seeds out and store them till your ready to feed them to the chickens. Since they're tall instead of wide, sunflowers take up very little ground space and can be planted amid vines like cucumbers or melons.
Cabbage (especially a cabbage pinata) is a favorite of the chickens but unfortunately you only get 1 head per plant. It's usually fairly big, but there is only one for the large amount of space the plant takes up.
Amaranth produces a ton of seed and the leaves are edible too. I like the loves lies bleeding variety for it's long drooping seed heads that look like feathery flowers. Amaranth reseeds itself pretty well so you'll probably only have to plant it once...like, ever!
Pumpkins are easy to grow as long as you have the space for them. They require very little effort and each vine can produce multiple pumpkins weighing several pounds each. That's why pumpkin is one of my favorite chicken feed plants!
Zucchini and cucumbers are easy to grow and produce a lot on each vine. These are easy to feed, I just slice them in half with a garden knife and lay them out for the chickens to devour.
Green beans and peas take up very little ground space and produce fairly well, but might need chopped up before feeding to the chickens.
Millet is one of those things that always pops up on it's own under bird feeders. It's easy to grow and requires almost no care and can be ready as early as 30 days making it easy to grow multiple times per season. This is also a boredom treat as you can just cut the stalks and toss them into the run whole and they will dig all though it to get the seeds out.
One of the benefits of planting a chicken garden is not worrying about weeds. Normally I pull weeds as soon as I see them but in the chicken garden I allow chickweed, lambsquarters, purslane, bittercress, smartweed and clover to get nice and big before pulling them out to toss to the chickens. I talk more about this in Feeding chickens for free: Weeds. Yes, Really!
Fruit trees are also a good choice. A fruit tree may take a few years to start producing but once it does, it will provide bushels of fresh feed for your chickens yearly. As an added bonus, they do not have to be fenced off as the chickens do very little damage to the tree, but will happily clean up the dropped fruit!
Now granted, I grow many of these same things in our garden. The regular garden gets a whole lot more attention the the chicken garden does though. I look at the chicken feed garden as more of a plant it and forget it sort of venture. By using saved seeds and volunteers I can start the garden for no cost, so whatever it produces is free feed for my flocks. Some years it produces more then others, but every year it cuts some of the cost from my feed bill!